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Corporate Branding: Our Brand is We Have No Brand

I had a funny conversation with a headhunter recently. Funny, because when she called to ask me if I was interested in a job as a Marketing VP of Branding, I couldn't just say no- I had to give her the 5 minute dissertation on why I don't believe in brands. What's funnier still is that she sat through the mini-presentation, and then agreed, she didn't believe in them either.

Here's my issue with corporate branding: You can read all of the books, attend all of the presentations and spend a fortune on researching, identifying and marketing your brand; but it all falls apart if your organization isn't on board.

To wit: A phone carrier goes through a full-scale corporate branding initiative, made clear by the influx of direct mail, quippy new tag line and Web site overhaul. But when I call in with a problem, it's not something they can easily fix; when I call with a question about an order placed through the Web site, the CSR is "not aware" of any of the Web promotions; and when I end the call, flummoxed by the lack of consistency provided by the so-called service rep, they recite a speech about how next time, I can go to the Web site for answers to my questions. I started at the Web site, and ended up in the lap of the CSR. Since neither helped much, why would I go back?

I think the CSRs are blameless- they're doing what they're told to do, including chanting the inexplicable end of call message. Instead, it's a corporate branding message that needs to start at the top, then get communicated down- and across- the company.

Branding, in its purest form, is not a fancy tag line, brochure or Web site message. It's how your customers perceive you, hopefully by way of how you want to be perceived. I will state what should be the simplest aspect of branding, but is often overlooked: that marketing and PR is useless, if your CSRs, your sales people and every other customer-facing employee in your company is not on board with your message.

Instead of hiring an ad agency to create a campaign, hire a consultant first to evaluate your corporate branding needs. That may or may not be part of the ad agency package- they might just be happy to follow your lead in developing a brand- but that's a very narrow view.

Gain insights into what your customers think by letting an outsider (with that all-important bird' eye view) listen in to phone calls that come in to the call center, conduct market research and review customer complaints.

You might just find that before you begin building your corporate brand, you need to get your house in order- and make sure that the brand you decide to promote doesn't fall flat.
Post your ideas about corporate branding.


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